Not all photographers choose to have a dedicated indoor studio, but sometimes you need to shoot a session indoors. Maybe it’s freezing outside, and you don’t want to be out in that weather. Maybe you have a bride who wants bridals, but is worried about her dress getting dirty. Maybe you just want something fresh and a little quirky. Maybe the building has special meaning to you or the person you are photographing.
Whatever your reasons, in this article you are going to learn all my secrets to finding indoor locations, and getting permission to use them. Hopefully they’ll help you find the perfect spot for your next session!
Secret #1: Always be on the lookout
Wherever you go, keep your photographer eyes open. You may be surprised at how many places transform into a great location once you really start looking. Some unique and exciting photography locations could be: family photos in the library, model portfolio shots in the city building, engagement session in the laundromat, dance group session in a hotel lobby, mom and toddler portraits in a grocery store, bridal session in a grand old house, a museum, a quaint bed and breakfast, a roller-skating rink, a university building, a furniture store, a toy store, or candy store – the list is endless.
Look for great lighting, open spaces, interesting backgrounds, and fun things to interact with. Notice if there are lots of people that you might be disturbing, or if it’s a relatively calm place that you could photograph in peace. Use your imagination and creativity to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary.
Secret #2: Always ask permission
Once you’ve found a place you’d like to try, make sure you ask permission before you bring a client there. I find, if possible, that asking in person is usually the best, because they can see who they are talking to, and are often less resistant if they can see your smiling friendly face. If you need to call, be professional and friendly on the phone, so they feel comfortable letting you come with your camera.
If you aren’t sure who owns the building, check with city or county records, or ask a neighboring building or house if they know who owns it. Do the legwork to find out who owns the property before you barge in uninvited. It gives all photographers a bad name if you trespass. I’ve had many times where I call to ask permission, and the owner thanks me profusely for asking permission. They express their frustration that other photographers just start shooting without asking. They allowed me to photograph on their property, so obviously they don’t mind people being there, but they always appreciate being asked first.
Some locations, like museums, or theme parks, are fine with you taking photographs inside, but you have to pay the entrance fee.
Some places charge a fee for photography, and some don’t allow photographers at all. If you whip your camera out in either of those types of places without asking permission first, you could be fined huge amounts. It’s not worth it. If you ask permission and get a no, just move on and find another place. However, it never hurts to ask. Most of the time you get a yes, and often they are pleased that you think their building is worthy of being a photography location.
Secret #3: Find an owner who will also benefit
I needed a place to have adorable kids come for Valentine’s Day photos, but I didn’t know who would want multiple kids and families traipsing in and out of their establishment. Then I came across an adorable little candy shoppe that was decorated perfectly, and full of delicious sweets and treats. My photography clients came in and out all day for their sessions, and ended up buying lots of candy in the process. Many who came had never noticed the little hometown shop, with homemade caramel apples and every kind of candy you can think of, and they were happy to have discovered it. I ended up having a great place for my Valentine’s Day photos, and the owner got a lot of new business.
Look for places that might have a similar situation, and chances are the owner will be more than happy to let you use their location, free of charge. Many small locally owned places need a couple of photos of their establishment for websites and advertising purposes, or maybe even a quick headshot, and would be thrilled to let you photograph there in exchange for a photo or two.
Secret #4: Explore any connections
Sometimes a friend may own a quaint little bed and breakfast, or maybe she works at a museum. If you are photographing that friend, that may be an especially smooth way to get your foot in the door. If things go really well, they may be okay with you bringing other people to their property again. Even if they aren’t the one that you are photographing, you could ask what they think about letting you use the property that they have a connection to.
Be careful not to ask for too much, and be careful not to put anyone in an uncomfortable position. If you sense that they are hesitant about having a camera there, don’t push it. A little respect goes a long way, and you don’t want to be the photographer that people avoid at all costs. Relationships are more important than having a cool place to photograph, so be extra sensitive when using this secret.
Secret #5: Be the best guest
When you’ve gotten permission to use a place, never, never, never ever let anything get destroyed, damaged, or left in any way other than how you found it. If you need to move something out of the way, ask if it’s okay first, and then put it back where you found it. Be mindful of what is going on around you, especially if you are photographing kids. You are responsible for what happens with your session, and you never want to pay a big repair bill, or lose a friendship because you were careless.
You are not only representing yourself, but all photographers everywhere, when you use a public or private property for photographs. If you make it a horrible experience for the owners, you have more than likely ruined it for future sessions for yourself, and for all other photographers who might think to ask permission. Please don’t be that careless photographer who ruins it for everyone. Instead, leave such a great impression that all photographers will be welcomed with open arms into almost every establishment, to create beautiful and unique photographs.
Do you have any other tips for finding great indoor portrait locations? Have you found any gems? Please share your comments and images of your favorite spots below.
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